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Blue v. Blue

Supreme Court of South Dakota

July 18, 2018

JAMES BLUE, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
THOMAS E. BLUE, Defendant and Appellant.

          CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS MAY 21, 2018

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE THIRD JUDICIAL CIRCUIT BEADLE COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA THE HONORABLE CARMEN MEANS Judge

          JOHN "JACK" S. THEELER ZACHARY T. FLOOD Morgan Theeler, LLP Attorneys for plaintiff and Mitchell, South Dakota appellee.

          DAVID J. LARSON ALBERT STEVEN FOX Larson Law, P.C. Attorneys for defendant and Chamberlain, South Dakota appellant.

          OPINION

          ZINTER, Justice

         [¶1.] Tom and Jim Blue inherited two parcels of land as tenants in common. Approximately ten years later, Jim commenced this action to partition one of the parcels. Tom counterclaimed for partition and for the value of purported improvements. He also counterclaimed for restitution for the time he spent caring for both properties. The circuit court partitioned the land equally, awarded Tom owelty, and denied Tom's claims for improvements and restitution. Tom appeals. We affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2.] In 2004, upon the death of their father George Blue, Tom and Jim Blue inherited two interests in real estate as tenants in common. They each received an undivided 50% interest in a half section of land in Beadle County. They also each received an undivided 25% interest in a quarter section of land in Hughes County. The remaining 50% interest in the Hughes County parcel was owned by another cotenant who is not part of this case.

         [¶3.] After George's death, Tom undertook the responsibility to continue caring for the properties. All of the Hughes County land and portions of the Beadle County land continued to be rented to others for farming. Much of the unrented portions of the Beadle County land continued to be put into the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Tom renewed several CRP contracts in 2007 and 2009, and he performed the work necessary for CRP qualification and compliance. The remaining Beadle County land included two tree belts, unproductive grassland used for hunting, and several depleted gravel pits. There was also a small manmade lake in the middle of the property.

         [¶4.] Tom and Jim had weekly conversations regarding the management and care of the properties. However, Jim was not interested in working on or maintaining the land, and he did not provide any of the physical or business-related work. The record reflects that Tom had a significant attachment to the Beadle County land based on the time he spent with George working and recreating on the land before George's death. Most of Tom's time spent on the Beadle County land involved the southwest quarter, which had poor soil quality and was less productive than the southeast quarter. The southwest quarter was also where Tom and George spent time hunting, developing wildlife habitat, building most of the lake, and generally maintaining the property. Shortly before George's death, Tom placed a monument to George to the east of the lake, which is on the southeast quarter.

         [¶5.] The income and expenses relating to both properties were divided equally between the brothers. Until this dispute developed, Tom never asked Jim for any compensation. In 2013, when Jim pushed to sell the Beadle County land, Tom refused, and the brothers had a falling out. Thereafter, Jim commenced this action to partition the Beadle County land. Tom counterclaimed for partition and a credit for claimed improvements to the property. He also sought restitution for his time and labor in caring for both properties. His claims for restitution were based on theories of unjust enrichment and quantum meruit.

         [¶6.] The brothers stipulated that the Beadle County land could be partitioned in kind and that no sale was required. They also waived appointed referees, see SDCL 21-45-15, and agreed to hire separate appraisers to value the property and assist the circuit court in dividing the land. Jim retained certified appraiser Bryan Maas, and Tom retained certified appraiser Tom Meekins. Both appraisers focused on partitioning the half section into the southwest and southeast quarters subject to certain adjustments and the payment of owelty.

         [¶7.] Maas valued the southeast quarter at $555, 700 and the southwest quarter at $473, 700, for a total value of $1, 029, 000. He opined that it would be necessary to add twelve acres to the southwest quarter to equalize the value of the partitioned land. However, he also opined that it would be more practical to divide the property equally at the quarter-section line and require that whoever received the southeast quarter pay $41, 200 owelty to whomever received the less valuable southwest quarter.

         [¶8.] Meekins valued the southeast quarter at $470, 800 and the southwest quarter at $369, 200, for a total value of $840, 000. He opined that the party who received the southwest quarter should receive an additional twenty-four acres from the southeast quarter to equalize value. He also opined that if the land were divided equally, the owelty should be $51, 190. Meekins agreed that dividing land at the quarter-section line was common practice, but he did not provide an opinion whether that would be reasonable in this case.

         [¶9.] Tom provided a third opinion. Although he did not provide a valuation of the two parcels, he testified that the party who received the southwest quarter should receive an additional forty acres from the southeast quarter in order to provide each party with an equal amount of income-producing land. He also testified that he preferred the less productive southwest quarter because that is where he did most of the work with George.

         [¶10.] At the conclusion of the trial, the court adopted Maas's view that it would be more practical to divide the property equally at the quarter-section line. In accordance with Tom's request, the court awarded the southwest quarter to Tom and the southeast quarter to Jim. The court also adopted Meekins's opinion on values and ordered Jim to pay Tom $51, 190 in ...


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